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10 Office Design Myths Explained

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Office Design Myths

If you’re planning an office relocation or refurbishment you’ll know that there are a lot of conflicting opinions about office design best practice. This is made even worse by several common myths that could be very damaging for your company as you plan your next project.

In this article, we’ll go through 10 of the most common and damaging myths we encounter when working with clients on their office design. Today, you’ll learn what those top 10 myths are, why they are untrue, and how you can avoid them.

1) Remote Work Means the Office is Obsolete

One of the most popular and misleading myths is that with the rise of remote working, the office is now obsolete. It is true that during the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, forced home working was a lot more productive than anyone expected. However, this does not mean remote working has made an office unnecessary for your company. An office can be an essential way of bringing your staff together, improving engagement, collaboration, and communication.

The role of the office today is very different to 5 years ago. No longer is it a place where people come to work all day every day. With the advent of hybrid working, the office has become a collaboration hub that brings your people together. By embracing the new role of the office, you can make your workspace much more effective.

2) Office Design Is Purely Aesthetic

Many company executives think of office design as a nice-to-have that has little impact on company performance. Nothing could be further from the truth. When done right, office design can have a major impact on staff and overall company performance.

Your office design impacts the performance of your people in three ways. The first is environment – providing (or depriving) your people of the types of spaces that match the way they work. Physical features of the design, such as air quality and lighting will also impact staff productivity. The design of your space will also affect your people mentally, through colour and brand identity. All these factors can increase or decrease the productivity of your people depending on your office design.

3) Minimising Cost is the Most Important Factor

An office refurbishment or relocation is often a big investment. The return on that investment can be hard to gauge, let alone calculate. Given this, many companies fall into the trap of prioritising cost when planning their office design. Minimising cost is important, but if doing so reduces the productivity of your people, then you are making a huge mistake.

To find the balance between minimising cost and maximising performance, you need to carefully define your brief and work closely with your office designer. A well-defined brief will enable you to eliminate the unnecessary nice-to-haves. The designer's expertise will help you not to eliminate important features.

4) You Can’t Calculate the ROI of Office Design

Office fit out heavily impacts two of your biggest costs – staff and real estate. However, measuring staff performance is challenging. This has led many business executives to conclude that there is no way to accurately measure their return on investment. However, you can often get a very good idea by breaking down your new design into its different parts and considering how each will improve the performance of your people.

The best place to start is your real estate costs – both leasing and operational. If you are downsizing or installing more efficient utilities, these should decrease. You should also consider the improvements in physical and mental wellbeing that your new office will bring. Unfortunately, there is no calculator to accurately determine the ROI of your project. Considering the different improvements will help you keep the investment in perspective.

5) Office Design is a One-time Project

Because office design can be expensive and difficult to assess, many companies don’t think about it until their lease expires. However, this is a mistake. Your industry is always changing, and so is the way your people work. As a result, you should regularly assess the performance of your office, at least every 3 months.

The simplest way to do this is by surveying your people about your workspace. This will give you clear feedback on whether your office needs updating. You can also use data from access control systems or occupancy sensors to analyse how your people are using the space. This will prevent your space from becoming outdated.

6) Open Plan Always Improves Collaboration

Collaboration is an essential component of creativity. In an attempt to increase collaboration and space efficiency, many companies have moved to compact open-plan office layouts. However, this does not automatically increase productivity. In fact, an HBR study found that some open-plan offices lowered face-to-face interaction by 73%!

An open-plan office layout can help increase staff collaboration, but it doesn’t do it automatically. Cramming desks together in an open-plan design will be ineffective. To maximise collaboration, you need to include spaces that are specifically designed for informal, small-team collaboration.

7) Open-Plan Workspaces are Noisy and Distracting

A common complaint about open-plan office layout is that they are noisy and distracting. Distractions can be very damaging to productivity. Employees lose an average of 2.1 hours daily to distractions. However, this is not because of the open-plan layout, but because of poor space planning and acoustic design.

To reduce distractions in your workspace, you need to include spaces designed specifically for individual deep work. You can also use acoustic wall panels and ceiling baffles to reduce the noise levels throughout your space. Another cost-effective option is sound masking – playing soft sounds through speakers that neutralise the human voice. Creating a workspace that minimises distractions is crucial, but this doesn’t mean an open-plan design is not an option.

8) Amenities Always Improve Wellbeing

Over the last 3 years, wellbeing has become a major consideration for staff and companies alike. It is now one of the 3 top considerations of new applicants when choosing a job. In an attempt to improve staff wellbeing, many companies have invested heavily in staff amenities. However, in many cases, these have had little impact. Gaming areas or screen-covered walls may look amazing, but the resulting improvements in staff wellbeing will be short-term at best.

This is not to say that amenities do not improve staff wellbeing – far from it. A well-considered amenities package can have a major impact on staff satisfaction. However, the best amenities are the ones your people barely notice, like lots of natural light, materials, and plants throughout your space. To learn more, read our article on the top 5 amenities to boost staff wellbeing.

9) Technology Always Improves Productivity

In a similar way to wellbeing, workspace technology has become more important in recent years. This has also led to heavy investment in office technology that is, in many cases, ineffective. An extended reality suite may look amazing, but is it a good investment? That’s for you to decide, but you need to consider how will improve the performance of your company.

To ensure your workspace technology is as effective as possible, first consider the way your people use your office. You can then implement technology to complement that, which will be far more effective than adding technology without considering how your people will use it.

10) Small Changes are Simple

The final major myth of office design is that small changes during the project are simple and easy. As a result, the design process is rushed or not done thoroughly enough. While some small changes are simple, others are not. A seemingly small change may require procurement of items on a long lead time and getting a specialist subcontractor back on site. This would delay the entire programme, costing both money and time.

To avoid these, you should define your brief very carefully, and then work closely with your design and build company on a design and delivery plan that meets the brief. You should also choose your contractor carefully, considering the ability to deliver as well as design. References from previous clients are essential. By careful planning and working with a fit out delivery expert, you will avoid the need for these “small” changes in the first place.

Avoiding Myths in Your Next Office Design

There will always be myths around a topic as complex and changeable as office design. Many of these myths are created by stereotypes and cookie-cutter design that doesn’t meet company needs. Being educated about office design trends and insight will help you avoid them. By avoiding the myths we’ve gone through here, you are well on the way to making a success of your next office design project. The crucial thing is to remain focussed on what is best for your company and your people, rather than being distracted by marketplace trends or opinions.

To learn more about office design, head over to our insights centre. There, you’ll find news, inspiration and insight about all things office design. We also cover topics such as office consultancy, fit out, relocation and refurbishment.



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